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updated: 8/22/2013 8:49 AM

Court: UK govt can eye items taken in Snowden case

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  • In this undated photo released by Janine Gibson of The Guardian, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, right, and his partner David Miranda, are shown together at an unknown location.

    In this undated photo released by Janine Gibson of The Guardian, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, right, and his partner David Miranda, are shown together at an unknown location.
    Associated Press

Associated Press

LONDON -- A British court has ruled the U.K. government may look through items seized from the partner of a journalist who has written stories about documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Lawyers for David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, said the seized items contain confidential information. It asked the High Court to prevent the government from "inspecting, copying or sharing" the data.

Instead, the court will allow the government to view the items on the condition the material is being examined on "national security" grounds. The injunction runs until Aug. 30.

It was not immediately clear whether the court or the government would be authorized to decide what is in the interests of national security.

British officials took computers, memory sticks and other electronic items from Miranda when he was detained and questioned for nine hours at London's Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the country's Terrorism Act.

"Confidentiality, once lost, can clearly never be restored," Lawyer Gwendolen Morgan said in a statement. "If interim relief is not granted, then the claimant is likely to suffer irremediable prejudice, as are the other journalistic sources whose confidential information is contained in the material seized."

Miranda's attorneys argued that they need the injunction for 14 days -- or until an application for a judicial review of the matter can take place.

The attorney representing the police, Jonathan Laidlaw, however, made clear the police were already scanning through the tens of thousands of pages of digital material -- and were only partway through it.

"That which has been inspected contains in the view of the police highly sensitive material, the disclosure of which would be gravely injurious to public safety and thus the police have now initiated a criminal investigation," he said. "There is an absolutely compelling reason to permit this investigation to continue."

London police have argued that Miranda's detention was "legally and procedurally sound." Home Secretary Theresa May has defended the police, saying they were right to act if they "believe someone has in their possession highly sensitive stolen information that could help terrorists, that could lead to a loss of life."

May's attorney, Steven Kovats, says she opposed the injunction that the paper wanted because it was important to look at the documents "without delay in the interests of national security."

Lord Justice Jack Beatson asked whether examining the data now arose from a need to "counter any threat." Kovats said in broad terms, the answer was "yes."

Greenwald has written about NSA programs in the United States using files disclosed by Snowden, who now has temporary asylum in Russia. The Obama administration wants Snowden to face trial in the United States for the leaks.

The 28-year-old Miranda was returning home to Brazil from Germany, where he had met with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has worked with Greenwald on the NSA story. Miranda and Greenwald live together in Brazil.

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